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Garry Peterson on new The Guess Who album ‘The Future is What It Used to Be’

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The Guess Who, seen here in a still shot during the filming of the music video for "Playin' On The Radio" - one of the new tracks from the band's first album in decades - "The Future is What it Used to Be," released last week. The Guess Who, seen here in a still shot during the filming of the music video for "Playin' On The Radio" - one of the new tracks from the band's first album in decades - "The Future is What it Used to Be," released last week. (photo by Erik Gloege)

One of the things I’ve always admired about The Guess Who is the band’s dedication to songcraft.

You can hear it in their classic singles, from timeless hook-filled rock ballads like “These Eyes,” “Laughing” and “Share the Land” to the jazz-influenced “Undun” and the straight-up rock of “American Woman” and “No Sugar Tonight,” The Guess Who have given us a wealth of carefully-crafted gems that still sound fresh five decades later.

That commitment to strong songwriting is all over The Guess Who’s new album released last week. “The Future is What It Used to Be” is the first collection of new material released under the band’s name in decades.

Cofounding member Garry Peterson – the only original member of The Guess Who in the band today, has surrounded himself with a powerhouse group that includes lead singer Derek Sharp, guitarist Will E., Keyboardist Leonard Shaw and bassist Rudy Sarzo. They’re top-flight players that also have a lifetime of songwriting experience behind them.

“This album is what I think the original Guess Who lineup would sound like today had we stayed together,” Peterson told me during an interview from his home in Greensboro, North Carolina.

“These new songs were inspired by the music of all the great artists we listened to when we were growing up, like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, and on and on,” said Peterson. “They are the heroes that influenced this band as well as the original lineup of The Guess Who.”

True to the spirit of the band’s classic albums, the songs on “The Future is What It Used to Be” are remarkably varied, from the melodic summertime pop of “Playin’ on the Radio” to the riff-heavy “When We Were Young” and the power balladry of “Haunted,” it’s a strikingly diverse set of material worthy of the name The Guess Who. Peterson says he hopes to add at least five of the new songs to the band’s concert setlist.

“You wouldn’t believe how pumped we are to play these songs for people,” he said with giddiness in his voice. “You have to realize that after 50 years of playing the same songs, it’s really exciting to have new music.”

Even though Peterson has long been out of touch with some of his former bandmates in the classic lineup of The Guess Who (he last spoke with singer Burton Cummings when The Guess Who performed at the Toronto SARS benefit show with The Rolling Stones and AC/DC on July 30, 2003 and has only spoken to guitarist Randy Bachman a couple of times since) he says he is proud of the timeless music they made together.

“When I’m on a flight, I’ll listen to the old albums over and over again,” Peterson said of the 11 albums released by The Guess Who from 1969 to 1975. “I like to hear how we progressed as a band. There was a real progression in the songwriting and musicianship.”

Peterson says he invites listeners to go back and listen to the complete studio albums of The Guess Who to experience some of the band’s more adventurous material as well as the familiar hits.

“There is a lot of wonderful material apart from the songs you hear on the radio,” he said. “Even though I played on it, I’m often amazed at what we came up with. I’ll wonder ‘What were we thinking there?’ It’s very different from ‘These Eyes’ or ‘American Woman’ but we came up with some really amazing stuff and we were very fortunate to have a great producer in Jack Richardson. When you worked with him, you had to be prepared.”

Richardson so believed in The Guess Who, he famously mortgaged his home to finance the recording of “Wheatfield Soul” in the fall of 1968 and ended up producing every album recorded by the band through 1975.

“We were prepared when we showed up at the studio to work with Jack,” Peterson said. “But the tape machine was always running because he never knew what we were going to do between songs. Like we’d get frustrated trying to perfect a certain cut and we’d do something different like “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston (from “Rockin’” – released in 1972). That was just us goofing off between cuts when we couldn’t quite get the song we were working on.”

Peterson says that before Richardson died in 2011, he gave him tapes containing all of the outtakes recorded by The Guess Who, as well as Richardson’s original mixes of the material released on the band’s albums.

“The Guess Who catalog has been stepped on several times now,” Peterson said of the remixed versions of the band’s catalog released in recent years. “Other people who had nothing to do with the original band have gone in and remixed the tapes to make them sound different. I talked with Jack about that and he was not happy with it.”

But when an artist takes a song from The Guess Who catalog and records a new version of it, as Lenny Kravitz did with “American Woman” or Tesla’s take on “Hand Me Down World,” Peterson says he’s all for it.

“I think it’s great and a real honor when that happens but after listening to the original for so many years, it’s sometimes tough to like a new twist on it. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

I asked Peterson to tell me what comes to mind as he looks back over five-plus decades of The Guess Who.

“Do you think of the countless hours in the recording studio? Being on the road together traveling to gigs? The fun times? The hard times? What images appear in your mind?”

“Everything,” Peterson responded. “I think about all of it from then to now, including the new record, because that’s what it’s all about. The new album is about all of the things you just mentioned. It’s about the experience of trying to create new music. It’s about taking it to the people, the experience of traveling to all of the concerts. There are good things and bad things. It’s everything. The highlights are great, but to get there, you have to have the lowlights. When we go out to play a show, we don’t say we’re going to work. We say we’re going to play. And I can’t wait for people to hear the new songs on ‘The Future is What It Used to Be.’”

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